Are Cavaliers Too Flawed Defensively to Repeat?

cavaliers defense

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, March 26, 2017 10:59 PM GMT

Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 10:59 PM GMT

The Cleveland Cavaliers remain heavy favorites to win a third straight Eastern Conference title, but their defense has been one of the worst in the NBA for weeks. Might that be their undoing in the postseason?

The old adage in sports is that “defense wins championships.” It certainly has been proven true of late. The New England Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champions and led the NFL in defense. The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 1908 thanks in large part to the lowest earned run average in Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Penguins rode red-hot goalie Matt Murray to last year’s Stanley Cup title.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are of course the defending NBA champions and are +250 second-favorites on BetOnline’s NBA odds to repeat. Are the Cavs too porous defensively for that to happen or can they flip a switch come playoff time?

Entering this week, the Cavs are just 6-8 this month, which is one fewer win than the horrendous Brooklyn Nets have in March. The biggest reason for Cleveland’s struggles have been on the defensive end as they are allowing 115 points per 100 possessions in the month. The only team worse is the Los Angeles Lakers, who are 100 percent tanking. They are at 115.7. Thus you clearly should be betting ‘over’ the total in most Cavs games. They are 41-31 O/U overall.

[/]{"component":"video", "type":"youtube", "url":"https://www.youtube.com/embed/3wSkJzNV1uc", "videoSize":"Large" }[/]

On the season, the Cavs are 22nd in defensive efficiency at 108.1. Last season, they finished 10th in that statistic at 102.3. Head coach Tyronn Lue claims he has some secret plan to fix the defensive problems but isn’t showing it yet because he doesn’t want teams to get a proper scouting report on it before the postseason. Would Lue really risk losing the top seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics just to keep things under wraps?

"We've got to hold back,” Lue said recently. “We can't show our hand early because ... these are some good teams and we don't want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens."

Since the All-Star break, the Cavs are allowing 113.5 points per 100 possessions. The worst defensive efficiency number by any NBA champion over the past 10 years after the All-Star break is 104.4 – by last year’s Cavs.

All-Star Kyrie Irving is a fabulous offensive player but a sieve defensively. He had 46 points against the Lakers on March 19 but was only plus-9 because his primary defensive responsibility, D’Angelo Russell, put up 40 points. John Wall torched Irving for 37 points on Saturday in Washington’s 127-115 victory.  Wall scored 18 points in the first quarter as the Wizards scored 40, the most the Cavs have sacrificed in the first quarter this season.  The Wizards were the fifth team in March to score at least 120 on Cleveland.

Sometimes defense is simply about work ethic. It could be that LeBron James & Co. are simply going through the motions at this point and waiting for the playoffs to arrive. James-led teams have won six straight Eastern Conference titles and not always with the top seed. The Cavs should still easily handle whichever team they play in the first round, but someone like Wall or Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry could be a problem in the conference semifinals. Then you have a potential matchup against the Celtics and their star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bet On NBA Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks
comment here